BOONE, N.C. — Appalachian State’s first league game resembled its nonconference finale from the previous weekend.
The Mountaineers took control with another first-half explosion, at one point scoring five consecutive touchdowns to claim a big lead in a 52-7 victory against South Alabama on homecoming Saturday at Kidd Brewer Stadium.
After the Jaguars responded to quarterback Zac Thomas’ 54-yard touchdown run with a tying score midway through the first quarter, App State (3-1, 1-0) benefited from two Jalin Moore touchdown runs, another Thomas touchdown run and a pair of Thomas touchdown passes (to Corey Sutton and running back Marcus Williams Jr.) to take a 42-7 lead into halftime of its Sun Belt Conference opener.
Appalachian’s offensive, defensive and special teams units excelled again, just like they did while producing a 52-7 halftime lead in a 72-7 home victory against Gardner-Webb. Adding in a 45-9 win at Charlotte, the Mountaineers have scored at least 45 points in three straight games for the first time in program history, and they have given up single-digit points in three straight games for the first time since 1998.
“Our coaching staff did a great job last week of coming up with a great game plan on Sunday and Monday,” App State head coach Scott Satterfield said. “I told our kids that they did a great job of adhering to the game plan and buying in and really practicing all week. We talk about our preparation all the time, and if our preparation is where it needs to be, then we’ll come out and play a competitive football game. That’s what we’ve been doing this year, and we’ve got to continue to do that.
“We have some really good leaders on this football team. There’s a lot of talk about how young we are, but we have some good leaders that bring these young guys along. These young guys are being led and allowing it to happen. When you have that buy-in, then you can have a special team.”
App State’s special teams came up with several more big plays Saturday, as Clifton Duck had a 52-yard punt return to set up a touchdown and Tae Hayes recorded the program’s first blocked field goal since a 2014 game against South Alabama. Hayes also made a third-quarter interception as the defense forced six three-and-outs and limited the Jaguars (1-4, 1-1) to 308 total yards, 209 fewer than Appalachian’s total of 517. Outside linebackers Akeem Davis-Gaither and Noel Cook combined for 15 tackles.
Thomas rushed for 77 yards with two touchdowns on just six attempts and threw for 146 yards while finishing with two touchdowns through the air. Moore’s scoring efforts of 7 and 2 yards were part of a 19-carry, 123-yard performance that moved him into sixth place on App State’s career rushing list.
With his 17th career 100-yard game, Moore increased his App State total to 3,538 yards and moved past Chip Hooks, who ran for 3,472 yards from 1991-94.
Scoring drives lasting 35 and 25 seconds enabled Appalachian to turn a 7-all tie into a 21-7 lead by the end of one quarter.
Ryan Huff recovered an onside kick after South Alabama tied the game, and Thomas’ 31-yard completion to Thomas Hennigan set up Moore’s first touchdown. Duck followed a defensive three-and-out with his long punt return to the South Alabama 25, and Moore’s double-digit gain preceded a 7-yard scoring keeper from Thomas.
Thomas had touchdown passes of 2 yards to Sutton and 27 yards to Williams Jr., who made the third reception of his young career as an App State running back, sandwiched around a Moore score.
The Mountaineers’ second half points came from Chandler Staton’s 23-yard field goal late in the third quarter and tight end Collin Reed’s 3-yard touchdown on a pass from quarterback Peyton Derrick, who is now 10-for-10 through the air this season. Michael Rubino also continued to post a high percentage, as seven of his nine kickoffs were touchbacks.
The Mountaineers have next weekend off before returning to action with a Tuesday night game at Arkansas State on Oct. 9. The game will be televised by ESPN2.